Modern technology is a wonderful thing isn’t it? With the development of smart phones, affordable laptops and high speed broadband, people can communicate with each other at the click of a button, in seconds. People can create their own media, and publish it, for free, to a potential audience of millions. There was a point in my lifetime when we didn’t have internet access in my house, and none of us had a mobile phone, but I honestly can’t remember what it was like so great has the impact of these developments been on my existence.
However, with the multitudinous advantages of modern communications technology, there is inevitably a dark side. Messages can be sent speedily. So speedily that a message written in anger, can be sent in haste, and then it’s too late to take back what was said. Faceless contact means that people can be perhaps more cruel to each other, if only because they can’t see the direct consequences. And that audience of millions? Well they see everything. Even the things you don’t want them too.
As a result of this, an inexcusable trend has bred amongst some of the more unsavoury members of society: ‘revenge porn’. For those of you who don’t know, ‘revenge porn’ is when a jilted partner publishes intimate photographs or video clips of their ex-lover online. Most recently brought to the public consciousness by N-Dubz’s Tulisa Contostavlos, who suffered the shame of a sex tape made several years previously being posted on the internet. Although this is probably the most-well known case in the UK, website IsAnyoneUp.com caused considerable controversy in the US. Thankfully now shut down, the owner of this site unashamedly coined in by encouraging dumpees to send in naked photographs of their ex-partners as a means of revenge. Thousands of people suffered the indignity of this before owner Hunter Moore (who was previously defiant in his dismissal of the immoral nature of his website) decided to shut the site down, allegedly because of the volume of submissions featuring indecent photographs of minors.
Although the death of this site is certainly a step in the right direction, sadly, it is not the only means for the virus to spread. Facebook, Twitter and even email and text can all be utilised by scumbags to carry out their seedy agenda. These sites can be contacted and content removed, but often by then the damage has been done. There needs to be a greater deterrent in the first place to prevent idiots from contemplating this course of action.
It may be an extension of the excuse of many a cyberbully; they just didn’t think about how far it could spread, how many people might see it and the damage that might be done. This attitude simply isn’t good enough. Anyone who would think that this might be an acceptablecourse of action clearly has no respect for, and probably never had any respect for the other person. And although I acknowledge that men can suffer from this too, like many points on the scale of sexual violence, the female victims outnumber the male.
This isn’t just a feminist issue; this is a human rights issue. No-one would think that it was acceptable to run up to a woman in the street, take all of her clothes off and engage in sexual activity right there and then in front of anyone who just happened to be around. No one would think this was funny. And here’s the thing. This so called ‘revenge porn’ is worse than this ridiculous scenario. So much worse. The potential audience for this sort of thing is, well, anyone who has access to the internet. So millions then. Maybe even hundreds of millions. In the absurd scenario suggested, the humiliation would last for a period of time, but then it would end. When this is online, the degradation is repeated every time someone else views the clip. If that wasn’t bad enough, then the final kick in the teeth is the potentially infinite time that this clip could be available. This. Is. Not. Right.
The inevitable question that springs from this is ‘is it the person who took the photo’s fault?’ Sending sexy texts to partners is not in itself wrong. It’s just an extension of the naked polaroid and saucy letter of the past. In fact, I would speculate that many a modern relationship (well, since the devlopment of the decent camera phone anyway) would have failed to get off the ground without the fuel of a little sexting. When considering whether a specific sexual behaviour is wrong or not, I tend to try not to judge so long as it involves consenting adults only, and is private apart from those involved. I believe that sexting, as long as it involves consenting partners and is reserved for the eyes of the recipient only, is in itself relatively harmless, not for me (I don’t even like looking at photographs of myself fully clothed never mind naked. I’d never manage to take a shot I was happy with!) but good fun for some. However, when these fundamental rules are broken, that’s when I have a problem with it.
No one can argue that the victims themselves must take some responsibility, after all, most of them chose to take the photographs or make the film clip (and for those that didn’t, well their attackers should be dealt with in the same manner as a rapist would in my humble opinion.) However, I’m sure that the vast majority, had they known that these images would go public, would never have made them in the first place. They were made and sent under an understanding of trust and confidentiality, and the people who break that, no matter how badly they’ve been dumped, well they’re just bad people. The idea that victims somehow ‘deserve’ these images to be made public is an extension of that grubby old chestnut that women who wear revealing clothes are ‘asking for it.’
Whichever way you look at it, this is just another form of bullying. Like many bullies, its perpetrators claim that they thought it would be funny; that it was just a laugh, to embarrass their victim a bit and punish them for breaking up with them. I can guarantee their victims don’t feel that way, and I’m not sure that I ever really believe that line. It’s about power and control; it’s another, mutated form of sexual abuse.
Those who engage in this despicable act should be punished in the same way that other sex offenders are. Because that is exactly what they are. Sex offenders. Someone who uses sex as a weapon to hurt someone else, to humiliate, to degrade and to exert power over. No one should attempt to quantify ‘how bad’ a sexual assault is. As a victim of a sexually motivated assault I can tell you that there is little else more infuriating than people telling you that you were lucky, just because you were not raped or seriously injured. I don’t consider myself lucky as a result of that experience, and I’m sure women who have suffered this form of ‘virtual’ assault don’t consider themselves lucky either. Just because there was no physical assault does not mean that these women have not endured pain, distress and torment. Everyone who has suffered this should not have.
Some might argue that this is not comparable to a physical sexual assault, yet I would argue that it stems from the same murky motivation, to exert power, to feel like you have control. Even though the victims of this crime may not have endured physical suffering, I’m sure no one would like to suggest that their emotional and mental suffering was ‘not as bad as it could have been.’ Every woman who suffers a crime such as these deserves our sympathy and support, irrespective of what her attacker, or attackers may contend.
That this is allowed to continue in a modern civilised society is a mockery of women’s rights. Although progress is being made in this area, there is still a long road ahead. Yes, in the year to March 2011, 71% of rape cases which went to court ended in conviction. However, this only accounted for 24% of all reported cases.[i] If women and men are to have truly equal standing, this issue needs to be dealt with more seriously. The law needs to evolve in line with technology in order to keep up with the crimes being committed. Again, some progress is being made with regards to this. In April this year, 12 people were arrested in connection with the online naming and abuse of the victim in a high profile rape case.[ii] This is a massive step forward in the fight against the use of online media to sexually degrade women. A massive step, but nevertheless only the start of the journey.
For what it’s worth, I think Tulisa’s handling of the situation was spot on. I’m sure the person who released the tape was looking to disgrace her, make her look like a slut, but in fact, it had a different effect. It made a lot of people angry on her behalf. She was betrayed, and because it was so public it made her seem especially vulnerable. It made people aware of the issue and as a result, more people are talking about it. In the right way.